#16 Florida Gators (3-0) @ #12 Tennessee Volunteers (3-0)
Saturday September 24, 2016; 3:30 P.M.
Knoxville, Tennessee; Neyland Stadium
Quarterback #4 for McElwain
Jim McElwain has been coaching the University of Florida football program for about 22 months now. In that short span of time that goes through this coming Saturday, he will have his fourth different starting quarterback. McElwain has a 13-4 record in those games, but it would likely be easier to win a few more with one constant as his signal caller.
Nevertheless, it is senior graduate transfer Austin Appleby’s turn to take his shot at the helm of the Florida offense. Appleby gets the task of taking on the Tennessee Volunteers in his first start as a Gator in front of what will be a feverish 100,000 plus fans.
This isn’t Appleby’s first rodeo in major college football. A transfer from Purdue, he played in 17 games and started 11 for the Boilermakers.
The gators lost Luke Del Rio to injury for this contest in the fourth quarter of last week’s game, but Austin Appleby came here in January to compete and possibly win the job, and McElwain believes his guy is ready.
"He's been great,” McElwain said earlier this week of Appleby. “And from the get-go since he's been here, I think him being here as early as he was, was great. The guy, he's played. He's been in games. He knows how to prepare. He does some things differently, so we're going to have to highlight some of those things. At the same time, we've got to make sure that (freshmen) Feleipe (Franks) and Kyle (Trask) are ready as well. But that's what makes it fun."
Like Del Rio, something that Appleby brings to the table is being an older player. This is Appleby’s fifth year in school while Del Rio is in his fourth. Compare that to last year when both guys out on the field were in their second season post high school ball.
“His maturity, his love of the game, how he’s really invested in his teammates,” McElwain said in what makes Appleby the kind of leader he needs at the position. “But more than that, the preparation piece that he’s put in, even when he wasn’t named the starter. This ought to be fun for him. He’s been in Big Ten stadiums. Now he gets to go to a real fun place to play in the SEC. The reason you come to Florida is to play in games like that. It's another CBS national game, so you know what? Everybody can see what the heck you're doing. I don't know. I think that's pretty cool. Right?"
His teammates believe in him as well. Senior receiver Ahmad Fulwood gave a little insight when Appleby had to hit the field to take over for Del Rio. He took control of the huddle quickly.
“He’s doing great,” Fulwood said. “He kind of came to us and calmed us down. When your quarterback does down, everyone’s looking to the next guy. He’s the next man up, and he’s done a real good job of calming us down and knowing he’s got this, and we’re going to work around him
Fulwood saw early this week that Appleby is really taking on the leadership role that comes with being the starting quarterback.
“You can tell he’s tightened up a little bit,” Fulwood said. “He’s starting to buckle down. He’s starting to get us more comfortable. So if we can all be comfortable on the same level, then it helps him, it helps us. You can just tell he’s taken on that title and he’s carrying it right now.”
“He’s always been a vocal guy. He’s always been an up-tempo guy. He’s got some playing experience, so he knows how the game goes, which is good. So I mean, from there on it was just him playing ball and he’s done a tremendous job of doing that.”
“When he comes in the huddle, he tells us, ‘Shut up, and let’s go.’ So that’s what we do. You know, we get things going. That’s how we treat our quarterbacks.”
Saturday afternoon Austin Appleby will get his second chance as a college football player. He lost that chance at Purdue and took a shot at coming to Florida. There are a lot of people that believe he is ready for it.
THE MATCH UP
The Florida offense will certainly face their toughest test of the new season. Bog and physical up front, the Volunteers
GATOR OFFENSE vs VOLS DEFENSE
McElwain has some familiarity with Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Shoop said at some point this past week that he was brought in to the Vols staff to beat Florida’. The plan should be for the Vols to play man defense and apply pressure up front, but that remains to be seen with injuries to a starting linebacker and corner that will have them out of the game.
“Defensively, obviously with that new defensive coordinator, I’ve got a lot of respect for this guy, Bob Shoop,” McElwain said. “He comes at you with things from everywhere and it shows up because they keep you out of the end zone. Very opportunistic. They’ve got some real weapons defensively playing a little more man than maybe they did zone voided stuff before.”
With that in mind the Gators are going to have to work to keep them honest. The Vols are second in the SEC in pass defense giving up just 182 yards per game and sixth in the conference in rush defense allowing 152 yards per game in their first three games. Florida needs to run the ball and allow the passing game to open up that way.
The top two keys are always important ones. The Gators can’t turn the ball over on offense. The other thing is to stay on track. Don’t get behind on down and distance and get themselves in situations where they have to pass the ball.
GATOR DEFENSE vs VOLS OFFENSE
The Vols ran roughshod over the Gators a year ago. The defense was actually a bit embarrassed after the game a year ago and the group, including coordinator Geoff Collins, have circled this game to make amends.
The Vols used Florida’s aggressive nature against them, incorporating a jump pass for big yards, a throwback pass to quarterback Josh Dobbs for a long touchdown, and several runs that caught the Gators a little flat footed as they ran by.
Dobbs accounted for 136 yards on the ground a year ago, but McElwain likes the way his defensive front is keeping quarterbacks in the pocket and not letting them run so far.
“Their ability to keep the guy in the pocket is going to be huge this week, obviously, playing Dobbs, this guy is as good as there is,” McElwain said. “He hurt us a year ago. Let’s face it, they ran it down our throat a year ago. I’m sure they feel pretty good about that, and they should. We’re going to have to maintain our rush lanes when they do throw it and get him hopefully a little uncomfortable and not be able to get his feet set exactly like he wants to and not let him take over the game with his feet like he did against us last year.
Dobbs has been erratic this year, but more so his receivers have not helped him. As the Gators will be facing the best defense they have seen this year, the Florida defense may be the best the Vols will see all year. Florida has shown the ability to contain the quarterback and still get after hi having registered 16 sacks in three games to lead the country.
The Gator defense will be the most talented unit on the field Saturday, but coming into the season it was the Vol offense that was drawing more accolades. They have had the aforementioned problems, but one of the main concerns so far has been the play of the offensive line. This should play into the hands of the Gators, but they can’t be too aggressive in their attack which is how they were able to really take advantage of Florida’s defense a year ago.
The key for the defense will be to contain Dobbs and make him beat them with his arm, but also keep him on the move.
Comparing special teams, both are pretty close with the Gators being slightly better at just about every phase. Special teams play is a push here, the Gators need to just not give up a cheap one.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Florida hasn’t played as good of competition as the Vols have but it wasn’t that far off. Plain and simple, the Gators have looked a little better in some stages and a lot better on defense. Florida will lean on their ground game which has been a problem for the Vols to defend so far. The play of Florida’s linebackers will be the difference from last year on defense and keep the Vols in check. I don’t think the Gators are 10 points better, but am going with a final
PREDICTED SCORE GATORS… 23 VOLS… 13.
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